US News: Boston Chamber pushing bill that would study charging drivers ‘congestion pricing’

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce is backing legislation that would create a commission dedicated to studying ways to reduce traffic, including a congestion pricing option that could increase costs for drivers traveling in and around the city.

Legislation filed in the House and Senate on behalf of the Chamber calls for the creation of a mobility pricing commission, “to investigate, study and make recommendations on the development and deployment of comprehensive and regionally equitable” public transportation, roadway and congestion pricing.

State Sen. Brendan Crighton, who filed the Senate version, said the commission would study ways to improve congestion, fourth-worst in the world in Boston, which “would help the economy, environment and the quality of life for countless residents.”

“We don’t have a plan for how we’re going to pay for the maintenance, upkeep, even investment in roads, bridges and transit,” said Jim Rooney, Boston Chamber president and CEO. “The proposal is to face the realities that it’s inequitable. It’s not sustainable.”

Rooney pointed to the elimination of the gas tax in 12 years, by way of Massachusetts outlawing the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, saying a long-term plan is needed to make up for that loss of revenue.

The commission would study a number of options, including a more equitable tolling system and flat-rate public transit fares to incentivize ridership, but congestion pricing has proven to be a difficult selling point thus far, Rooney said.

Former Gov. Charlie Baker cited equity concerns with that concept when he vetoed the bill last summer, and Rooney expects there may be some political resistance to it this time around as well.

Also called mobility pricing, the concept can take a number of different forms, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Toll prices could be increased during peak commuting hours, and discounted during off-peak hours, which reduced congestion in Seattle.

Zone-based pricing would involve adding tolls to charge drivers who are traveling within or into a congested area in Boston. This type of project has been implemented abroad in London, Stockholm and Singapore, but there are no operating examples in the U.S., according to USDOT.

A toll-free option would tax drivers based on the miles they drive with their personal vehicles, which has been tested in Minnesota and Oregon. Some people think it’s fair, but others feel it’s intrusive, Rooney said.

“Would it work in Boston? I don’t know. Is it politically feasible? I don’t know,” Rooney said. “If it’s not politically feasible — it could be a great idea in some people’s minds, it could work technically, technologically, but it’s not politically sellable.”

Rooney said he’s not predisposed to supporting a “massive congestion pricing” program, but is looking forward to gauging the reaction for it, should the bill pass and the commission be formed.

“Back when we tried to figure out how to pay for the Big Dig, it wasn’t popular to raise tolls on the Turnpike, but there was a bill coming,” he said. “Something had to be done, and the tolls we’re paying today is a result of that.”

It’s the Chamber’s third attempt at pushing the bill through, and Rooney said he’s already had early conversations with Gov. Maura Healey and the incoming transportation secretary.

Karissa Hand, Healey’s press secretary, said “the governor recognizes the need for long-term sustainable funding for our transportation system.

“She looks forward to partnering with the business community, Legislature and other stakeholders to think creatively on how we can increase our investment in transportation and strengthen our economy.”

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